There are so many ways to drink coffee. Sometimes we know just what we want, and sometimes it’s hard to choose. This choice is made even harder when you don’t know what every drink on the menu is, let alone how it’s made.
An example of one of these drinks is a café au lait. This creamy drink originated in France and is more popular in Europe than in the U.S., where lattes seem to be a popular choice. So what exactly is a café au lait, and what makes it different from a latte?
A latte starts with fresh-brewed espresso shots, and then steamed milk is added, often with a light layer of foam on the top. This drink became popular because it offers the bold espresso flavor people want, but with a creamy, smooth flavor from the milk.
People like to customize their coffee, which is the reason lattes became even more popular. There are many flavors available to add to your latte for a personal touch, like peppermint and caramel.
Café au lait translates to “coffee with milk” in French, and that is exactly what it is. To make this drink, you start with hot, strong coffee, typically made with a drip coffee machine or a French press. This fills the bottom half of the cup, and then hot milk fills the rest. The milk in this drink is always hot, or else it becomes a different drink called “white coffee.”
There is also an American version of café au lait that originated in the most French part of the U.S., New Orleans. This version is unique for a few reasons, the main one being the addition of chicory in the coffee. Chicory is a plant that has a very woody taste. This gives the drink an extremely distinct flavor. The milk in this version isn’t steamed, but scalded, or heated right up to the boiling point. The last reason this version is different is that it’s usually served with a sweet treat called a beignet. This is a ball of fried dough coated with powdered sugar, a French version of a donut.
Though both café au laits and lattes are made with milk, they’re different from each other for a few reasons. It all comes back to the general makeup of the drink.
A latte is made with bold espresso, while a café au lait uses strong coffee. Lattes have more milk and a little bit of foam and may be made with a wide range of flavors. Café au laits are typically served straight, though the American version adds chicory.
Now you know what lattes and café au laits are and how they differ. Why not try a new latte flavor or head down to New Orleans for an American café au lait? Enjoy your new coffee discoveries!
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